15.10.2012 - UNESCOPRESS

Developing young people’s skills for work is a must, new UNESCO report urges

Youth skills have never been so vital. One young person, aged 15-24, in eight across the world is looking for work. Youth populations are large and growing, especially in the urban areas of low-income countries. With one quarter of the world’s youth earning no more than $1.25 a day, un-skilled young people are being trapped in working poverty for life. Launched on October 16, UNESCO’s 10th Education for All Global Monitoring Report, “Putting Education to Work”, could not be better timed. It looks in depth at youth skills, one of the least analyzed of the “Education for All” Goals set in 2000.

As the economic crisis continues to squeeze budgets and push up unemployment worldwide, the Report reveals the urgent need to invest in skills for youth aged 15-24, and lays out steps that governments, aid donors and the private sector must take to redress the severe lack of skills, especially for the most disadvantaged young people. “Some governments are creating jobs but neglecting to ensure that all young people learn the most basic skills,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “Many young people, and young women in particular, need to be offered alternative pathways for an education.” Countries that do invest in young peoples’ skills find it is smart move. The report estimates that every $1 spent on a person’s education yields $10-$15 in economic growth over that person’s working lifetime.

The report paints a stark picture of the skills deficit. Acquiring a lower secondary education is a minimum today for young people to gain the foundation skills they need to find decent jobs. Yet globally, there are 250 million children of primary school age today who cannot read or write, whether they’re in school or not, and 71 million teenagers are out of secondary school, missing out on vital skills for future employment. In developing countries, around 200 million young people need a second chance to acquire the basic literacy and numeracy skills, which are essential to learning further skills for work. Young people living in rural areas require new coping mechanisms to deal with climate change and shrinking farm sizes, and to exploit opportunities for off-farm work. In all of this, women and the poor face particular hardship.

The situation is equally daunting in developed nations, where 160 million adults do not have the skills needed to apply for a job or read a newspaper. Those facing social disadvantage, including the poor, migrants and ethnic minorities, are particularly affected. Even young people still in school at the age of 15 can have very poor literacy skills that may persist into adulthood. Citing surveys conducted by the OECD, the Report finds that “the proportion of young people in school who performed below level 2, the level required to demonstrate reading ability that enables them to participate productively in life, ranged from under 10% in Finland and the Republic of Korea, to over 25% in Austria, Israel and Luxembourg”. Over the entire region of Northern America and Western Europe, there are more than half a million adolescents of lower secondary school age who are not in education. Those without this education, and who have not had a stable job by age 25 years, face sharply diminished chances of enjoying financial stability over their lifetime.

As well as focusing on programmes that have made a difference around the world, the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report points to the urgent need to increase funding. It calculates that, in addition to the US$16 billion needed annually to attain universal primary education by 2015, universal lower secondary school enrolment would cost US$8 billion. “Governments and donors must find the money and energy to help young people most in need to acquire the skills they and their countries’ economies desperately need,” said Pauline Rose, director of the report. “The private sector is the first to benefit from a skilled workforce and must also step up its financial support.” While the private sector presently contributes the equivalent of 5% of total official aid to education, private contributions are often more closely aligned with corporate business priorities, than government priorities. Large amounts of funding go to tertiary education, for example, though only a minority of children make it to that stage and most still lack basic skills. Most of the IT sector’s support is channeled to the emerging economies – Brazil, India and China – rather than to developing countries most in need of assistance.

This new Report reminds us that education is not only about making sure all children can attend school. It is about setting young people up for life, by giving them opportunities to find decent work, earn a living, contribute to their communities and societies, and fulfill their potential. At the wider level, it is about helping countries nurture the workforce they need to grow in the global economy. Pauline Rose, director of EFA Global Monitoring Report, cautions, “Young people’s frustration will only grow, if something is not urgently done.”

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